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Archive for the ‘Fontwell’ Category

I’ve finished going through a bulging folder labelled “History” that’s normally kept in the Salisbury racecourse office.  Borrowing it has allowed me to note, copy and scan its assorted contents.  Amongst the goodies there are photos from the 1930s onwards that could wind up in the book, copies of old racecards and newspaper articles, and a large photograph of a splendid 1802 painting, unfortunately spoiled by a big crease.  That could be a job for Photoshop.

Four years ago I bought a couple of Victorian photo albums owned by Binda Billsborough in the hope there’d be clues that would add to my knowledge of the Alfred Day family and help me complete the family tree.  To be frank, my study of the photos didn’t yield much to my benefit.  S, another researcher of the Days, showed some interest in them but nothing more came of it.  I’ve decided to let them go, and put them up for auction with Henry Adams of Chichester on 11 May.

I was pleased to bump into one of the Racing Post’s top features writers at Fontwell races the other day, a chap I’d met briefly a few times before.  He gave me some valuable pointers about interviewing people, writing to a deadline and the address of someone who may be able to contribute to the Salisbury book.

It looks like I may be getting a second regional newspaper column to ghost-write each week, and some other statistical work.  So, what with the reports I do already for two courses’ websites of their race meetings plus Salisbury research, the amount of time I spend on racing is increasing to the extent that I might have to rein back on actually going to the races!

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I’ve had a few more ad hoc enquiries from people doing their family or local history reserarch this month. One of them to do with Brighton was particularly satisfying.  The question was about a picture of a horse called Suspicion, ridden by Gordon Richards, after winning a race there.  They were trying to establish the date; was it the 1950s, perhaps?

A quick search indicated a definitive answer wasn’t going to be easily obtained, and I spent longer on it than I’d anticipated, having found this horse running at Brighton in 1936 aged eleven. Form books were then scrutinised in reverse order to reveal this mare had run about a dozen times every year over ten seasons, winning 25 races altogether.  Five of them were at Brighton with Richards on board, between 1931 and 1935.  I wound up sending details of all her wins to the enquirer, with my surmise that her owner was related to a family well-known in racing today.  They were very pleased to have so much information.

It made me wonder how many other forgotten favourites like Suspicion there must be; not top class horses, but popular for winning more than their share during their careers, their names now languishing undiscovered in the pages of dusty old books of racing results. My research helps me come across some relatively conspicuous course specialists like St Athans Lad and Certain Justice at Fontwell whose exploits were noticed in newspaper articles, but what about those old-timers whose victories were spread across a number of tracks, or who weren’t big names?  Suspicion won nine times at Brighton in all, but I never came across her when researching my book.

Over the last few years I’ve occasionally supplied a regional newspaper column with weekly racing articles, providing holiday cover for their normal author. Now I’ve been asked to supply them on a regular basis, which is very nice.  It was great when retirement meant I no longer had a string of day-to-day work deadlines to worry about any more, so is it perverse that I welcome having a new bit of routine like this?

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Only having signed up to Twitter a few weeks ago, I don’t suppose I’m the first to observe its ability to become a great time-waster.  I can’t help scrolling down looking at stuff that may only be of tangential interest – but there’s always the compulsion to look at the next tweet, or see what’s going on with other tweetsters.  I wasted a lot of time wondering why I couldn’t send someone a message before realising they had to follow me as well as vice versa.

Nevertheless credit to fellow researcher @charliepoteen for suggesting I tweet my blog, if that’s a legitimate phrase.  I do so partly to find out what I’m missing, and also to help increase the potential audience for my books.  Early indications are that the number of blog views has increased.

One of my first tweets was a blurry photo of four heavy, large cardboard boxes full of old copies of The Sporting Life cluttering up my hallway as an example of Research.  They were kindly donated by Simon Holt, top man, top commentator and top provider of Foreword to my Brighton book.  A few racegoers leaving Fontwell the other day will have seen the transfer between his car boot and mine of these rare yet probably unsellable documents, most of which date from the mid-1990s.  I’m going through each newspaper to see if I can spot anything interesting about Salisbury or all the old courses I’ve written about – or indeed any other subject that takes my fancy.  You might think it pointless to look for material about the courses I’ve already written about, but I cannot stop myself from wanting to discover more about their history.

It is incredibly laborious, though. Each newspaper is folded in half and it takes roughly an hour to reduce the thickness of the pile by an inch.

The feature of last week was a visit to the best racing library in the country, if not the world, where the fruits of others’ research about early racing at Salisbury were generously made available to me.  More digging, closer to home, next time.

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Bromley research continues, mostly in the form of typing up a lot of handwritten notes I’ve made at the British Library.  Getting a wizzy special IT pen a few years ago that supposedly translated handwriting into Word proved useless.  Taking notes by tapping away on a laptop in a library somehow seems alien to me; on the few occasions I’ve done so it feels like it’s taking longer than old-fashioned scribbling.  Typing up the scribble at home more or less doubles the time needed, so the laptop route is faster, but sometimes one simply prefers to avoid the most logical route.

A feature on “Ten things you didn’t know about Bath races” was due to appear in the Racing Post today, and I gave them some suggested contributions earlier this week.  I haven’t seen the paper to see if it actually appeared.  If it has, I hope my name was mentioned.

The possibility of a couple of exciting new projects has arisen.  One big, one small.  I won’t know about the big one for a few months – that’s subject to discussion and agreement of other people.  I am very hopeful about the smaller project, which would be a novelty for me, but it would be premature to say any more for now.

A third possible development involves the Fontwell book.  At some point I will need to get the racecourse management to take a view on whether they want any more, and what expense (if any) they’d be prepared to go. It’s also been suggested to me that I could do a picture-less Kindle version.  That’s a process I know nothing about and while I’m sure I could google various guides, I’d prefer if I could find a real life person who’s done it themselves.  And as I write this I remember that there’s someone who reads this blog who has travelled this path and might be able to help me ….

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Most of my old book-buyers have now bought Windsor. While I was packing one to fulfil my most recent order a bookshop rang, asking me to supply a copy. Oh good, that’s another one, I thought.   Five minutes later they called back to say their customer had decided to order it direct from the racecourse.  Well, at least that shows there is some awareness that they are selling it.  They haven’t asked me to do any active promoting of it and as there’s been no need for me to be there, I’ve not been to the races for two months.  I expect to return for their next Monday afternoon meeting.  I know the usual race day presenter and some of the commentators have been plugging it, for which I am very grateful.

Meanwhile “light relief research” is being directed toward Bromley, a fairly short-lived Victorian suburban course close to where I live. Unlike Croydon, the subject of my first book, it never had any great status and nobody has written much about it before.  At least my work helps keep library user statistics up at a time when so many are under threat of closure due to austerity measures.  One of the readers of this blog is fighting to keep his local library going.

I am running low on Fontwell books and the other day I asked the racecourse if they could spare some. It sounds like the answer may be no; they could only lay their hands on a few.  It’s not 100% confirmed, but if they are also close to running out that’s quite an achievement.  For some years I believe they’ve been giving them out as mementos to winning owners, so even if they’re not selling many they are still getting value from them.  I never expected that the thousand we printed would all be used.  Do I dare to dream of a second edition?

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I’ve more or less completed the fifth and last of my local newspaper articles.  I’ll polish it off tomorrow.  And a good job too, as inspiration has become increasingly difficult!

My trip to Eastbourne to sign a Windsor book was very enjoyable apart from heaps of traffic on the way from Brighton, and even more on the return journey via another route. (At least I was crawling along on a fine warm day in pleasant countryside.)  My hosts were very welcoming and I was surprised to find that, despite actively contributing to reminiscences of Windsor on the local history forum they had moved away from there over 50 years ago.  It was further confirmation of the impression I have that as time goes by, memories of one’s youth become clearer.

Brighton races were enjoyable and one bet resulted in one winner.  That was also the case at Salisbury a few days ago, where the “Jim Beavis Signing” sign given to me at the Epsom book signing a fortnight earlier was back in use, advertising a variety of my books on display.  It was another sunny day and the good crowd included some buyers.  Strangely no Windsors were sold, but two Bath books were quickly snapped up and I had to go back to the car for reinforcements. We also sold some Brightons, Fontwells and The Days.

In the last couple of months I’ve been to Salisbury as much as I had in the previous ten years.  It really is a very pleasant place when the weather is good, though when departing the road from the course to the A36 is slow going.

Earlier in the week I met a fellow author of much greater esteem than me.  Amongst other things he told me about readability statistics in Microsoft Word, of which I was unaware.  He also told me the advice he’d been given about never starting a sentence with “It” or “I”.

I venture to suggest that last one is difficult when blogging.

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Relieved

The Windsor book is out and it looks fine.  Phew!  People at the racecourse are pleased with it.  We are, however, well behind on the marketing front compared with previous books.  I had expected to be interviewed by the compere there on Monday evening but seeing as the poor weather for most of that day kept the crowd well below expectations, I suggested we defer it until a day with a bigger attendance.  He can’t interview me at every meeting.  The new plan is to do it next Saturday, Gentlemen’s Day.  How many of the gents are prospective book buyers, I wonder?  I hope there can be a second on-course interview later in the summer, ideally to coincide with a book signing – the signer being someone rather better known than me.

The compere is a top man. I will refrain from naming him in order to spare his blushes.  He has contributed to the content and the promotion of my previous books and he is always very supportive.  He’s one of those people who you invariably feel better for having talked to him.

My own marketing duties include contacting people on my mailing list to alert them to the existence and availability of the Windsor book. I also need to send complementary copies to some of my prime helpers who gave me their time, life stories, family histories or photographs from their private collections.

A trip to Uttoxeter last week yielded very welcome news about the number of sales of their book. They’re higher than I dared hope after only seven months.  It’s quickly leapt into second place (behind Fontwell) in terms of total sales.  They have covered their costs, so they’re happy.  By naming their recently-refurbished restaurant “1907”, the year the course started, they have reinforced the heritage aspect of racing there.  They have other plans to extract value from the books, notably by including them in some of the special admission packages for race days.  And then they can push it again on the approach to Christmas (“the ideal gift”).  So there’s no need to put it on Amazon (and therefore drop the price) yet.

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